Magical, whimsical, but not without that Dickensian grit we all know and love.
Think you know A Christmas Carol? Jacqui and David Morris have re-birthed the classic Christmas Tale.
As winter closes in on us at the twilight of a year that has robbed us of so much beauty, my love and longing for theatre have never been so strong. I have sorely missed the feeling of sitting in front of a stage, fully immersed in another world for a while. Co-directed by David and Jacqui Morris, A Christmas Carol is an ambitious film that crosses theatrics and cinematics so gracefully that I was able to feel something that came close to the experience that theatre gives us.
We are immediately reminded that the film is a performance as the film opens with Victorian children preparing a dollhouse to re-enact the story before their family. Narrated by the grandmother (Sian Phillips) in the audience, the youngest daughter takes the story away with her own imagination, the dollhouse becoming a busy street in the snow, and the dolls dancing fluently to the narration. The stage design (Darko Patrociv) was modest and spacious, which made the atmosphere charming and set itself apart from the myriad of adaptations that place us at the depths of classic Dickensian dreariness in cramped offices and claustrophobic streets.
A significant barrier to further renditions of this timeless classic is that a director can only place so much faith in the plot to attract an audience. Yes, it’s a well-loved novel, with well-loved films and theatre pieces that followed, but this means that new adaptations have to be innovative with their approach. We have all seen the old man in a nightgown and sleeping hat being whisked around the Christmases’ of his youth and those of his less fortunate peers, but the main challenge lies in doing it in a way that will still excite the audience. Jacqui and David Morris overcame this obstacle with grace and a dainty charm that has made it marvellously unique and gave a childlike feel to the production.
The voice acting to accompany the choreography was a nice touch that made the performance run smoothly, while the cinematography (Michael Wood) was just stunning. Using techniques from early theatre, the appearances of the ghosts were strikingly haunting as they floated around Scrooge, only as translucent figures, even as he held onto the robe of the Ghost of Christmas Present (Mikey Boateng). Martin Freeman’s loving talk of Tiny Tim felt completely in earnest while Daniel Kaluuya’s (Ghost of Christmas Present) voice fluently switched between hearty welcomes and authoritative monologues about the plagues of Want and Ignorance.
A particularly gruelling aspect that was added was the way of life in Victorian England to which Scrooge so often refers. When Scrooge (Simon Russell Beale) insists that prisons and workhouses are sufficient to deal with the deprivation of the “surplus population”, Morris extends the horror of this statement and reminds us of what a Victorian prison or workhouse would have looked like. Exhausted men walking in circles with hands on the shoulders in front with nowhere to go, a prostitute on the street, and a man having his clothes stolen; we are given a bleak insight into just how dire a world Scrooge was happy to live in, which made his bitterness and ill will as haunting as the apparitions that visited him.
This ambitious film gave a new flavour to one of the most well-known Christmas stories in the Anglophonic world, which I think we can all agree is no easy feat. With a newfound softness and childlike whimsicality, I sincerely hope that this adaptation will pave the way for a new era of Christmas film and television.
A Christmas Carol, directed by Jacqui and David Morris, will be released on December 4th. It will be released in Ireland on December 11th. Book tickets here. Check out the trailer below: